Concerns about sustainability and social impact are increasingly resonating throughout the world and in every type of organization—business, government, philanthropic, and nonprofit.

This article describes a two-step process for developing and measuring social impact strategies. Its activities are based upon research conducted by Marc Epstein, one of the article’s co-authors. Although it was developed to guide decisions for a business school program, it is equally applicable for business as well.

Logic Models

The first step is to develop logic models, which, like causal-linkage maps or strategy maps show how an organization does business. While this is an important step for social purpose organizations, they are increasingly useful in for-profit business. Why is this the case? Because social impact is not just the sole province of non-profit or social – purpose organizations. For-profit companies are increasingly integrating social impact ambitions into the normal course of business. Whereas social good was once the province of charitable organizations, global initiatives like the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have social purpose embedded within the 17 overarching focus areas. This has caused entire industries to re-evaluate and map their ways of doing business with these goals in mind.

Look to the data for insights

The second step is to test the logic model through examination of three data types:

  • archival
  • self-reported data garnered from interviews with internal stakeholders
  • data from external stakeholders who have knowledge of internal stakeholder activities.

While 360 degree reviews which are quite common in businesses often don’t include external interviews. Think of this step as the 360 degree review “on steroids.” Data from external sources may provide valuable insights and be useful in uncovering organizational blind spots.

Integrate strategy across the entire value chain

Why use this process? Companies can measure their social impacts across the entire value chain – not just their social responsibility activities. Integration of social, environmental and fiscal goals have led to greater innovation and profitability in sectors like automotive, technology, retail, and consumer packaged goods. The key is to start with integration in mind.

If your company is wondering how to begin the process of integrating the SDGs or evolve your current sustainability program, we can help.

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